K is for Katherine Dunham. Yes, she is also a dancer but I stand by this selection because she is awesome! Katherine became interested in dance at a very young age. She opened her first dance school when she was 15. She studied dance and anthropology at the University of Chicago. Katherine was a pioneer in the field of dance anthropology and she founded the first African-American dance troupe in the country which she ran for 30 years. She disbanded the group when President Johnson made her a cultural ambassador to Senegal. She stayed active in politics and dance education until her passing in 2006 at the age of 96. Here is a spectacular clip of Katherine with her dance troupe from the movie “Stormy Weather” (1943).
I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, but it seems to me that most people who achieve true greatness develop a passion for their craft at a very young age. It makes me wonder what’s in store for my Beautiful Girl. Almost as soon as she could talk she has been saying that she plans to be “famous” when she grows up. When she was 4 I put her in pee wee soccer and I knew right then that my girl was destined for… something that wasn’t soccer. While a dozen other preschoolers chased up and down the field after the (adorably tiny) ball, my baby was working the crowd! She waved at the grandmas, she danced and twirled and modeled her uniform for the parents on the sidelines and she proudly read the letters and numbers on her jersey to anyone who would listen. “What care I for your silly soccer skills” my girl’s antics seemed to say “I am a STAR!” She’s still not sure exactly what she’s going to be famous for but in the age of Kardashians, I really don’t think it matters. Whatever happens she’ll know that I, her number one fan, will be sitting in the stands enjoying the show.
PS- Also, I hope her standard 8-week celebrity marriage nets me some grandchildren!
I knew that Lena was a legendary beauty and a ground breaking performer. I also knew something of her civil rights work but, in looking up information for this post, I learned there’s a lot more I want to know! I never knew she was black listed in the 1950’s for her activism and for her friendship with Paul Robeson. There are lots of great videos of course, but I thought we’d stick with a classic. It’s not the greatest musical ever made but it is still one of my all time favorites. Here she is singing the title song from 1943’s “Stormy Weather.”
I haven’t got much to add down here today. That “Stormy Weather” clip is not the first Lena Horne performance I ever saw, but it is the one that made her my hero. Thank you for your example Ms Horne. Rest In Peace.
I wanted to post some Cab Calloway. He’s one of my favorites and we haven’t heard from him yet. The clip is from the 1943 musical “Stormy Weather” and the song is called “Jumpin Jive.” It features my all time favorite tap dancers the Nicholas Brothers.
We are bracing for stormy weather around here. The forecast says 9-12 more inches of snow expected over night. I have decided to give winter my two week notice and then I’m resigning!
Saxaphonist Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton both played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the period between 1940-1942. Most critics call these years “the golden era” for the orchestra. The video is a 1942 soundie of “C Jam Blues.” The bassist is uncredited in this video. He’s hard to see but I doubt it’s Blanton who died of tuberculosis in July of that year.
I love Ellington’s soundies! I love soundies in general but he made some particularly fine ones. Duke Ellington also did quite a few feature films. He was in “Cabin In The Sky” with Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and Lena Horne to name a few. I haven’t seen it in years but I remember it being full of the stereotypes you expect from a movie of that era. But it also had some fantastic performances by an amazing all star cast. Now that I’ve been reminded of it, I think I’ll buy that one along with “Stormy Weather” which I love and which was released the same year.
Ethel Waters is also in that little clip of young Sammy Davis I put up a few posts ago. While I was reading up on Duke I took a bit of a tangent to locate the source of that clip. It’s from a 1933 short film called “Rufus Jones For President.” In it Sammy plays Rufus, a young boy who falls asleep and dreams he is president. That tap numer you see is his first act in office. I watched this one last night and all I could say was “wow!” Mainstream Hollywood movies of this era almost always contain offensive stereotypes but… “WOW!” This thing is hilariously offensive. They actually appoint ministers of fried chicken and watermelon and then it REALLY gets rude! The only non-insulting moments in the whole thing are the musical numbers. During the height of the civil rights movement people used to get really angry about the stereotypes perpetuated in films like this one. Personally I think in 1933 when many Americans were out of work and struggling, a cast of 20 or so Black actors and heaven knows how many crew members got to take home a paycheck. They created a film that features 3 great Ethel Waters songs and a song and dance by young Sammy Davis who, at that point, had already been working in show business more than half his life. If I ever find this one on DVD I will pick it up too for the great music and for the historical significance.
PS I may get disbarred from the Fraternal Order Of Black People for saying this, but a lot of Black people, myself included, really do enjoy fried chicken and watermelon. Sue me for spilling the secret but that’s just dang good eatin’ right there!